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I’ve been unabashedly ludditic this week, arguing for (or, at least, expressing a love of) the handmade book. Just to reassure you that I’m every bit the modern guy, I should also confess to having spent an inordinate amount of my e-lunch-hours this week in virtual France. If you haven’t heard, a six-year project has come to fruition in which the 4,500 manuscript pages of Madame Bovary, archived at the University of Rouen, have been loosed on the Web. As the Independent reported:
The project was launched six years ago as a tool for literary scholars. The municipal library in Rouen, which holds the
Flaubert manuscripts, appealed to academics to help transcribe the hand-written texts. It was rapidly decided to
open up the transcription process to enthusiastic amateurs and to make the site suitable for the general reader as
well as the specialist.
The manuscripts were shared out for transcription between 130 volunteers, aged from 16 to 76, in a dozen countries,
including France, Portugal, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Ivory Coast, and New Zealand. “They range from sixth-
formers to a cleaning lady and an oil prospector,” said Professor Danielle Girard, who co-ordinated the transcription
As beautifully communist as that operative approach surely is, the result for the rest of us is just as beautifully functional–the Internet at its best. To use the thing, first you go here, where you’ll see this:
Then, you pick a chapter, say Chapter One, part one, “Entrée de Charles au collège,” which will take you to the below, where, if you move your cursor over a section of the text, it gets hi-lit…
And then, once you cliquez, you get this pot of gold:
Yes, a split-screen that gives you Flaubert’s manuscript page and a transcription thereof–4,500 of them! Mais oui: c’est tout à fait extraordinaire. I propose it as your weekend read.
More from Wyatt Mason:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”